Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How Strange Does the American Colony Story Get?

Meet the Founders' adopted Jewish son, responsible for one of the most incredible archeological finds in Jerusalem in 130 years

Jacob Eliahu Spafford
Meet Jacob David Eliahu, born in 1864 to Turkish Jewish parents in Palestine.

Jacob and his parents were converted to Christianity by the "London Jews Society," a missionary group that started in London's East End and established a mission hospital in Jerusalem in the mid-1800s.  Jacob was born in Ramallah where his mother went to escape a cholera epidemic in Jerusalem.

Spafford picnic (1902). Jacob is believed
to be in the middle with a dark shirt.

At the age of 17, Jacob went to live with the founders of the American Colony, Horatio and Anna Spafford, who had just arrived in Jerusalem.  The Christian utopians, who had tragically lost five children to shipwreck and disease, adopted Jacob.

Jacob with his two Spafford sisters
and unknown girls (circa 1900)
Jacob appears in numerous Spafford family pictures and is credited with using his many languages (English, Spanish, Swedish, Arabic and Hebrew) and business skills to guide the American Colony community through an incredibly difficult period in Palestine marked by war, famine, and a locust plague.

Hezekiah's inscription.  The original tablet
was chiseled out and taken to the Istanbul
Museum (Credit: Tamar Hayardeni,

According to the Library of Congress, "Jacob continued to join [Jewish] relatives for Jewish holidays and observances while serving in a long and highly respected leadership capacity in the American Colony."

As a "local," Bible-steeped young man, Jacob was certainly familiar with the man-made underground water channel discovered in the 1830s from the Gihon Spring to the Silwan pool in Jerusalem.

But it was young Jacob who is credited with recognizing beneath centuries of silt an ancient chiseled tablet on the wall that dated the tunnel to the 8th century BCE and confirmed the massive engineering feat of King Hezekiah.

The inscription reads:
... the tunnel ... and this is the story of the tunnel while ... the axes were against each other and while three cubits were left to cut? ... the voice of a man ... called to his counterpart, (for) there was ... in the rock, on the right ... and on the day of the tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and flowed water from the source to the pool for 1200 cubits. and 100?cubits was the height over the head of the stonecutters ...
Jacob Eliyahu Spafford was killed in a car crash in 1932 and was buried on Mt. Scopus.
From a family album: "Uncle Jacob Spafford,
adopted son of Horatio and Anna Spafford,
formerly a Jew called Jacob Eliahu."

Plaque dedicating a wing in Jacob's
memory at an
American Colony orphanage
Jacob Spafford's grave on Mt. Scopus

1 comment:

  1. Seeing things today, the difference with life back then is mind-boggling. It's actually impressive they were able to get along fine without such things as advanced technology, the internet, and a proper insurance provider, like prudential life.